After two decades of wrestling with when and how to build a new jail in Jackson County, the issue was finally decided Monday morning. Supervisors voted 3-2 to build a brick and mortar jail costing almost $30 million. Their other choice had been a composite dome design that would cost about $4 million less.
Supervisors each made their case about which design to choose. When the vote came down, you could feel the relief. Even supervisors who were on the losing end of the 3-2 vote were shaking hands with the winners.
"I was on the short end of the stick," Supervisor Melton Harris said. "I've been opposed to the idea building that jail on the site and using that company, but I think everybody is glad to get it out of the way, one way or another."
The current jail holds just over 400 inmates. The new jail will house more than 800. That worries Harris.
"If you build it, they'll fill it. That's correct."
Supervisor Tommy Brodnax had a different idea about using the extra space the new jail will provide.
"Well, you can fill it with state inmates and make money off of it to help pay for it, or federal inmates," Brodnax said.
The idea of taking on additional state inmates at the new facility in order to actually make money doesn't sit well with Sheriff Mike Byrd.
"No, we don't want to house state inmates at all, simply because of all the certain criteria that you have to have," Byrd said. "We don't want to hold state inmates and we're not going to. I'm going to run the jail and we're not going to be a state certified facility."
The swing vote came from Supervisor Manly Barton. In the end, he said the composite dome design just wasn't going to save the kind of money he expected over brick and mortar.
"I pay taxes too, so I don't want to go out and waste a lot of money. And I don't think we've done that," Barton said. "When you get down to the apples to apples comparison, I don't think there's very much difference in the cost of one facility over the other."
Even with the decision made, the opening of a new jail is still at least two years away. The next step in the process will be to figure out how to pay for the new $29.5 million facility. Supervisors could consider a bond issue, but a similar measure was soundly rejected by voters two years ago.
Or the board could simply vote to borrow the money. That would be slightly more expensive though, since interest rates on bond issues are generally lower than money that is borrowed.